Of all the great and glorious days in history, where does this one, Easter Sunday, rank in your mind? Is your birthday more glorious? Your wedding day? The day your child was born? The day the Packers won the Superbowl? Was the first day of creation more glorious, when God created time and space and all the matter that would ever exist with only his Word? Was the fourth day of creation more glorious, that day when God, just by speaking, created sun, moon, and stars and flung them into the positions and orbits that they hold to this day? Were those days more glorious than this one? Not a chance. For as glorious as those days of creation were, one day God will fold it all up and change it with no more effort than you or I change our clothes.
What about the Last Day, when Christ will return with all his saints and angels, when all the dead will rise to face judgment? Will that day be more glorious than this one? Again, no. For apart from this day, that one would hold nothing but terror for us. Apart from this day, the Last Day holds only a voice that thunders: depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41) No, this day, the day of Christ’s resurrection is without equal; it is the most glorious day in all time and in all eternity for on this day Christ did what no one else would or could ever do: he rose from the dead by his own power. All through Lent we have been looking for the glory of the cross. Today, that glory reaches its climax. And yet, even today, on his day of triumph, we notice what we did throughout Lent, the glory of Christ is hidden.
Now, there’s no arguing that there was indeed glory to be seen in Matthew’s report of the resurrection. The question is: who appeared glorious? It wasn’t Jesus. It was an angel. The angel comes down from heaven, knocks open the grave, and sits on the stone. Where is Jesus? He had already been very busy that first Easter morning. His body and soul were reunited in the grave – but no one saw it. Later that same morning, Peter tells us, Christ descended into hell and proclaimed his victory over sin, death, and the devil – but no one heard the shrieks and howls of hell’s demons. It was hidden. Then, before the angel appeared, Jesus came out of the grave while the stone was still firmly in place. Again, that glorious moment was hidden. The only one that appears glorious in Matthew’s account is the angel: his appearance was like lightning, his face was white as snow. The effect was glorious too: big, tough Roman soldiers were so stunned and terrified that they fell to the ground like dead men.
By the time the women arrived, the soldiers had recovered and run into the city to report the news. These women had been planning to finish the burial preparations they had started on Good Friday, but to their amazement the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. And there, sitting on the stone is an angel, in all of his heavenly glory. And yet, as amazing as his appearance was, his message was even more glorious: He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see…Go…and tell his disciples: He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. If you remember nothing else from this morning, remember those words: Jesus Christ, though he died, is risen, just as he said.
And yet, isn’t it still kind of disappointing? Don’t we want to see Jesus, the risen Lord, on the day of his greatest glory? Don’t we want to see him robed in splendor, with his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as lightning? Don’t we want to see him looking like he will when he returns in glory to take us home on the Last Day? Shouldn’t his appearance match the glory of the day?
No. Why not? In our Old Testament lesson, Moses sang about what happened when God revealed his glory to Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. Long story short, Pharaoh and his army ended up as fish food. What would happen if Jesus had appeared to those women or to us in all of his glory? There would be no joy. Because we are sinners, we would surely die. But today is a day of joy because even today Jesus hides his glory. Unlike us, he doesn’t have to put on his Sunday best, buy a new tie or a new outfit to impress us. He doesn’t want to scare us to death. There will be a day for that kind of appearance, Judgment Day. But not today. Not on Easter. Why not? Because he doesn’t want to distract us from the most important part of Easter – the whole reason for the cross, the tomb, the soldiers, and the angel. The most important part of Easter is not what Jesus looked like – it’s what his death on the cross accomplished and what his resurrection proves.
What is that? What does Jesus’ resurrection prove? Where is the real glory of Easter? It’s hidden right where Jesus wants it, right where he wants us to find it – it’s hidden in his words. In two short sentences he sums up the whole glory of Lent, the whole glory of Easter, the whole glory of the Gospel. He tells the women: Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.
Don’t be afraid! That’s the profound message the holy God sent to the sinful world on Easter Sunday. Without that message, we would have nothing in this life but fear and dread. For, along with Adam and Eve, we fell in the garden, we too were separated from God by our sin. Death was our destiny in this life and hell our destination in the next. But Jesus died and Jesus rose. He did exactly what he said he would do. He went into battle for us on the cross – and he won. He paid for our sins with his blood. He conquered hell. He has triumphed over the grave. Nothing can separate you from his love. Easter is proof.
But there are always doubts, aren’t there? Even today, our consciences still condemn us, and the devil still tempts us. Maybe some sin from the past will mean that this Easter Sunday isn’t as peaceful as it might have been. How can we be sure that Jesus did all of this for us? You can be sure that this is for you because Jesus said so. Listen again: Go and tell my brothers. Jesus calls the disciples his brothers. Those men who slept in the Garden of Gethsemane when he told them to watch and pray. Those men who ran away at the first sight of danger. Those men who were no better than Peter, who denied him with oaths and curses. Friends like that certainly didn’t deserve to be called brothers, did they?
That’s exactly the point. That’s the whole point of Lent and Easter. The disciples didn’t deserve any of it, and neither do we. For we are no better than they were. But we are no worse either. Their sins are gone, and so are ours. They are buried in Jesus’ grave – never to haunt us again. And that’s why Jesus could call the men who abandoned him brothers – because He had washed their sins away. And that’s why Jesus can call you and I, people who have disobeyed him and rebelled against him – his brothers and sisters – because he has washed our sins away, too. There’s no reason for us to be afraid either. For through faith that was delivered and sealed in baptism – you are now precious children of God. This is the great, hidden glory of Easter: Jesus died. Jesus rose. We are forgiven, redeemed, and reconciled to God. Hell is conquered and death is defeated.
That is the glorious truth of Easter, but if Jesus were to reveal it to us personally in all of his glory, we would still be stunned and afraid. So still today, he hides that glorious truth, not in his physical form, but in his Word. That’s where we find him in all of his glory. Did you notice how that point was emphasized in the Easter story? What did the angel say? He has risen; just as he said. Jesus tells the women to report this news to the disciples. But he doesn’t appear to them right away because he wants them to learn to trust and depend on his Word alone. Why? Because in 40 days he would ascend into heaven, not to be seen on earth again until the Last Day. But his presence would always be with them, until the end of time – in his Word and sacraments.
So where should we go if we want to find the real glory of Easter? You’re in the right place. For here is where Jesus’ Word is proclaimed and his sacraments are administered. Here is where his Word drives away our fears and washes away our sins. Today and every time we gather for worship he still says to you and me and every sinner: “Don’t be afraid. I am not coming to you in glory that terrifies and kills. I am coming to you in the glory hidden in my Word. That Word still declares that your sin is forgiven and you are a beloved child of God. Don’t be afraid. Tomorrow you will still have problems and temptations. But though I died, I am alive and I will never leave you or forsake you. Don’t be afraid. Yes, the grave still lies in your future and your body will return to the dust. But I have conquered death and the grave by my resurrection. Don’t be afraid of anything – not even death.”
Go from here in peace then. For you know that no matter where this life leads, it will end in the arms of your Savior in heaven. Everything he has won he will give to you. And every step of the way, no matter the problem, no matter the sin – you can come right back here, back to his Word and Sacraments – for in these means you will taste and see the glory of the cross – the glory of sins forgiven, of peace with God, of His resurrection and yours. Yes, today is the most glorious of all days. For today Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Amen.